imagined pasts / unknown futures at high house contemporary

1 October 2012 § 2 Comments

High House is a rare thing – a genuine contemporary art gallery located outside London. In place of impressionistic landscapes and meaningless abstracts usually found in regional ‘Contemporary Art’ galleries High House actually features genuine ‘critically-engaged’ contemporary work.

The leafy Oxfordshire village of Clanfield lies on the edge of the Cotswolds and is complete with a stream alongside the green and obligatory and pretty Cotswold Pub (The Plough – recommended!). High House itself is a grade II listed Gothic mansion dating back to 1856 and is an impressive home for the small gallery space.

The current exhibition entitled Imagined Pasts / Unknown Futures, is the galleries third and features three highly regarded artists: Jonathan Baldock who features strongly in the Saatchi collection, Paul McDevitt from Stephen Friedman‘s Mayfair stable whilst Tim Phillips has had recent exhibitions with SumarriaLunn who are based in London’s West End.

Each exhibited artist makes theatrical hybrid works that fuse conventional modes of representation with imaginary worlds created from art-historical references and contemporary iconography. From Baldock’s use of kitchen-table crafts to Phillips’ traditional inlay and McDevitt’s colour-pencil drawings the artists consummate skill is self-evident whilst the works they create are far from the comfortable traditional world of the craftsman. 

Through grotesque and carnivalesque felt sculptures Jonathan Baldock utilises and departs from the canons of figurative representation – the head, the bust, and the reclining figure. Ruminating on a gamut of sculptural styles from primitivism to romanticism, abstraction to postmodernism he weaves multiple elements together to create works of the present.  He explores the territories between animal, human and inanimate forms, creating strange, hybrid objects, revelling in a love of the dark, glamorous and uncanny spectacle of theatre, where the beautiful unmasks the horrific.

Focused on the language of power, Tim Phillips’ constructs beautifully detailed pieces of ‘useless’ furniture. With for example detailed marquetry and carefully embroidered panels he exposes the choreographed languages of object, ritual and icon. The artist sees this process as a theatre within the sculptures he makes. The colours, materials and composition invite the audience to participate in a staged ritual of illusory grandeur.  His theatrical objects are layered in precise veneers, shiny plastics or plain mdf, their detailed geometries and grandiose structures combined with the use of religious and corporate iconography giving weight to their rocky foundations of belief, authority and worship.  

Paul McDevitt’s intricate pencil drawings – there are just two on display here – suggest a lost or undiscovered world, his subject matter derived primarily from 1950s cultural magazines and his own photographs. Much imagery focuses on anonymous graphic design which is fused with elements of architecture and landscape in his ‘unstill’ still-lives where the imagery appears to be plundered rather than arranged. 

This is a fascinating and unusual exhibition in a lovely location. Add the Dividing Line  exhibition in the formal gardens of High House and lunch at the Plough and its hard to imagine a nicer day out in the country.

Imagined pasts / Unknown Futures and Dividing Line continue until 14 October 2012. Opening hours are 11-5 Thursday to Sunday.

The author is a share-holder in the Gallery

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